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10 ways to have better conversations
What message do your words send, leaders? Improve your communication skills every day with these conversation tips
6. When in doubt, over-communicate
Just as you don’t want to be on the receiving end of partial information, you don't want to under-communicate with your business peers and partners. Sure, it may be easier to keep the conversation high-level, but taking the time to provide complete, transparent information can help important work – like digital transformation projects – proceed smoothly and efficiently.
"One of the worst communication habits I see with IT leaders is a lack of transparency in communication outside of the IT staff,” says Jason James, CIO of Net Health. “Communication often comes in the form of limited updates, vague responses, and technical jargon rather than simplified explanations and targeted messaging.”
“For example, digital transformation confronts the entire workforce with unfamiliar and often radical change. IT leaders must take the time to be transparent with not just their IT staff, but also with employees across departments about the reasons for digital transformation, how it impacts the user, and why the change is important. It’s not about selling employees on the latest and greatest technology, but about building IT advocates across the business who understand the need for change," says James.
7. Remember, half of communication is non-verbal
Body language plays an important role in conversations. Your words may convey openness and kindness, but your body language could send another message entirely.
For instance, eye contact is incredibly important as a leader, says Anne Baum, author of Small Mistakes, Big Consequences: Develop Your Soft Skills to Help You Succeed. “Looking your team members directly in the eye and listening to hear (not just to answer) builds trust between a leader and their team members. When a leader is looking around and not focusing on the team, the leader seems distracted or insincere. This destroys trust, and it doesn’t matter what words are being said.”
Your posture, your face, even your hands could make or break your next conversation. Erica B. McCurdy, certified master coach and strategy consultant, McCurdy Strategy Group, suggests: “Keep your hands open. Surprisingly, closing your fists or clenching your hands not only increases the tension in your body, but also the tension in the way you present yourself to others. Great leaders are open to ideas and are receptive to the people around them. You cannot stay open if your body and mind are closed off. Opening your hands is a physical way of reminding yourself to stay open-minded in your meetings, presentations, and negotiations.”
8. When face-to-face, put the distractions away
Who wants to have a conversation with the top of someone’s head? Put those phones away. If your mind is fully focused on the other person in the room, you’ll be able to communicate more confidently as well.
“Pay attention to the person you are speaking with,” says Dr. Ariane Machin, psychology professor at Purdue University Global and co-founder of Conscious Coaching Collective. “It sounds basic, but with our many distractions (phones, text messages, tones that are coming from our computer or phones, etc.), we have never been more distracted as a culture. Your tone of voice is also something to pay attention to. Are you speaking with a confident, authoritative tone, or are you saying ‘um’ and hesitating with the words you are using? These will all be cues to the person you are interacting with.”
9. In remote meetings, make sure people feel heard
Conversing with a remote colleague presents its own unique challenges. Daniel Viveiros, CTO of CI&T, has worked with remote teams for more than ten years, including multi-lingual and multi-cultural teams. He provides these tips to keep remote conversations inclusive and productive.
“You’d be surprised how many times I see people white-boarding and running exercises with Post-Its during meetings with people attending remotely,” says Viveiros. “It’s hard enough to read a Post-It from across a room, let alone through a screen. If remote collaboration is a reality for your company, invest in the infrastructure and technology to ensure its successful implementation. The quality of your webcams, microphones, web conference platform, etc. matters. Proper setup of your meeting rooms can make the difference between a dynamic and engaging conversation or a frustrating experience for employees.”
10. Look for great communication skills in job candidates
If you want to work in an environment where effective, transparent conversations lead to better morale, more efficient problem-solving, and higher productivity, then you should build these qualities into your culture. This starts with hiring for communication skills.
For instance: “When you’re looking to hire a data science rockstar, look for one who can communicate or has the ability to improve communication skills,” advises Eric Brown, managing partner of Crossing Digital and CIO of Sundial Capital Research. “Additionally, as an organization, if you want to be a great data science and analytics company, you must have a great communications culture.
“The candidates you’re interviewing could be the smartest people in the world when it comes to creating some wild machine learning systems to build recommendation engines,” says Brown, “but if they can’t communicate the strategy behind the system or their approach, they’re going to have a hard time, and their potential is going to be unrealized.”